We have to close the book on the last game. It will be useful to look back when and if the time comes where FAU is the opponent. Until then there is much to play for and little to learn from continually picking at the scab.
Still, lots of questions were asked, fireings were suggested, and cool was lost. That is understandable considering the circumstances: North Texas allowed 804 yrds of offense and 69 points. There are things that can be learned.
1) What happened with the defense?
Well, a few things happened. We’ll focus on the first half. Broadly they are these: The offense did them no favors. They were tired. They were not in position. They were unlucky.
To begin things, Mason Fine stumbled and Jeff Wilson bobbled the exchange on 4th down. On the next drive Mason Fine threw an ugly interception. (No favors)
FAU got the ball in good positon and quickly. FAU continued to quickly run their offense, with only little resistance. Because so much of their offense is short passes and inside runs, it is very easy to run quickly. This tired the defense quickly.
Jason Driskel ran his offense with little pressure in his face, and the runs were not stuffed in the backfield. Troy Reffett could not get penetration with his front three/four, and brought pressure. FAU was ready for this and had slant/flat combos, short screens, quick outs, and mesh plays to counter these.
For Driskel, it was pitch-and-catch. They mixed in one or two deep tries and hit the big one early.
So what little pressure there was was slowing and what little flow to the ball was slowing as FAU kept the tempo high. It is like doing high intensity interval training. Sure, it was just a few more minutes than NT had the ball but it was quick and intense. (Tired)
Finally, even early when NT had energy, there were breakdowns. FAU faked a read option and instead lead with the back. Instead of reading the end — in this case Ashton Preston — Buddy Howell would lead fake taking the handoff — which would make NT’s backs flow with him — but then cut back and lead for Driskel. EJ Ejiya would then have to flow the farthest to make the stop, as Preston force the run inside. This is how Driskel was the leading rusher early. Aside from that, Garner and McMasters missed tackles. That was being out of position.
The last realistic shot NT had of getting back in this thing was when down 24-7 and forcing a 3rd and long. The refs did not call the receiver down, and McClain tried to strip the ball. It bounced forward and FAU recovered just two yards short of the marker and went for it. They got it and would go on to score with the same offense. NT looked beat, the offense then threw yet another interception (on a clear PI) and then the rout was on. (This was the unlucky and more fatigue)
2) What happened with the offense?
The line was dominated, Mason Fine was inaccurate, and FAU was more excited to play.
NT’s line has been doing a decent job keeping Mason Fine upright, and only looked vulnerable against UTSA’s future NFLer Marcus Davenport. In this one, the line allowed a little too much trash in Fine’ space which made him scramble a bit more. He is not the best when running and throwing (few are) and he threw his first INT while getting hit in the face. (Line dominated, MF innaccurate).
Also on that pick, Rico Bussey kind of let the ball be intercepted. Did he know the DB was right near him? That was either poor effort or poor awareness. Either way, it resulted in an easier interception than was warranted. (FAU more excited to play)
3) Coaching mistakes?
Yes. Seth Littrell was really weird in his messaging after the game and at this week’s press conference. He suggested the reason the team was poor was ‘overconfidence’ but suggested the team had a good week of practice. Where, exactly was the overconfidence on display? It seemed like FAU had answers and enthusiasm for everything and were confident in their ability to execute their game plan. That’s good coaching.
Without having direct access to the practices, dorms, and private moments of each and every member of the staff and squad, it is impossible for anyone to say what, exactly, was the direct impact of overconfidence on the game.
I think everyone assumes he meant the players, but I have a feeling he meant the staff as well. He has also mentioned he wants to give the ball to Jeff more. Jeff Wilson had room, and could have really had a big day if he were featured more. Obviously this comes down to overall offensive execution, as more first downs mean more opportunity for Jeff and everyone. Still, he and Guyton were contained without too much effort by FAU.
There are a lot of similarities between the Briles offense and the Air Raid, in that the core philosophy is of execution at tempo. FAU executed their handful of plays beautifully and flawlessly. NT did not. A good portion of that had to do with the belief in the scheme. FAU came out and played like they knew exactly what they wanted to do and how, and with full confidence that it would work.
Defensively, NT looked like they were reacting instead of setting the pace. This is in stark contrast to the attacking, pressing, defense that Reffett wants to coordinate. Sure, we can probably point fingers at the players but that is the easy thing to do. If we know anything about Briles and Kiffin is that they have coordinated good offenses in their careers. That they produced a unit that executed and put up very large numbers is unsurprising.
Our staff did not have any answers for that.
On the other end, NT’s offensive gurus were shut down for the first half. FAU’s coaches had answers for our questions.
Even if it was simply desire and confidence, those are coaching areas. Nick Saban spends his entire time obsessing about the appropriate attitude for winning. If this team was overconfident, then it is not unreasonable to ask if the appropriate measures were taken during the week to correct for that. That’s also coaching.
Honestly, there is little shame in getting beaten. If the other staff outschemed and outprepared you, that happens. Littrell is early enough in his career where this will not be the first time this kind of thing happens, although I do not think it will be to this level of rout.
ReWatch the FAU first half if you must, here, while it is available.